Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “World's Fair” as Want to Read:
World's Fair
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

World's Fair

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  3,551 ratings  ·  279 reviews
The astonishing novel of a young boy's life in the New York City of the 1930s, a stunning recreation of the sights, sounds, aromas and emotions of a time when the streets were safe, families stuck together through thick and thin, and all the promises of a generation culminate in a single great World's Fair . . .
Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 1st 1996 by Plume (first published 1985)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about World's Fair, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Richard Conrath We are using it in our Men's Book Club here in Naples. So far a great book--nostalgic and simple in tone (but beautifully written). Doctorow takes su…moreWe are using it in our Men's Book Club here in Naples. So far a great book--nostalgic and simple in tone (but beautifully written). Doctorow takes su back to the days when our country moved at a slower pace. Lots of problems back in the 20s and 30s for sure--but a simpler life in that TV had not appeared and the radio was in its inception as a form of mass communication, eventually knocking the newspaper off its lofty pedestal. I'm looking forward to Doctorow's discussion of the World's Fair. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-45
Rating details
Sort: Default
Jul 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Hope Is Where You Find It

Doctorow's World's Fair is, for me, an important document touching on family history. My mother was 11 years old when she visited Flushing Meadows in 1939 and it influenced her life as significantly as it did Doctorow's. Both he and his avatar 'Edgar' were two years younger than my mother. New York City was (and of course largely still is) a city of immigrants and the children of immigrants. In other words it is a place of constant dislocation and dissolution. It doesn't
Jul 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
I’m not sure what you’d call this (memoir? novel? cultural history book?), but whatever it is, it works. Young Edgar, bright and observant, describes Jewish family life as he knew it growing up in the Bronx in the 1930’s. E. L. Doctorow (E for Edgar) presumably didn’t stray far from his own experiences to write this. The boyhood sketches spanned the whole decade, ending the year of New York’s iconic Fair when Edgar was 9. It was told in a voice that combined a kid’s sense of wonder with an adult ...more
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Adult Edgar Altschuler is looking back on his 1930s childhood with the wonder and fears of a young boy. The story is full of the sights and sounds during the Great Depression in New York City. In the background in their Jewish household radio reports tell about Hitler's advances. This is not a book with a lot of action, but it's a good character study of a boy growing up in that era. Although it is fiction, E.L. Doctorow incorporates events from his own childhood into the story.

Two visits to the
Vit Babenco
Apr 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I believe World’s Fair is a literary reproduction by E. L. Doctorow of his own childhood – the novel is so compassionate and it is full of authentic feelings.
“I imagined houses as superior beings who talked silently to each other.”
Child’s imagination, child’s fantasies and memories of our childhood are all dear to us. And I suppose there is always some central recollection that remains with us during our entire life.
“My father had predicted the Fair would be good for business. He explained tha
Esta es la historia de un niño, Edgar, y de una ciudad, Nueva York. ‘La feria del mundo’ transcurre en los años 30 en una Norteamérica azotada por la Gran Depresión, y la vivimos a través de la mirada de Edgar. Pero lejos de parecer un relato infantil, Doctorow nos regala una extraordinaria novela, con ciertos tintes autobiográficos, en la que resalta la calidad estilística del autor, su sencillez a la hora de narrar, y, sobre todo, ese mundo visto a través de los inocentes ojos de Edgar.

Con lib
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this more than I did. It is filled, filled, filled with accurate details of life in the Bronx during the 30s, ending in 1940 with the New York World's Fair. Everything is described, and all is well described - the news, the clothes, the food, new inventions, the street life, games, parks, Jewish traditions. This is a secular Jewish family. Seeing the Hindenburg airship was excitingly told to site just one fun episode. What you get is a million and one descriptions. The book ends ...more
Will Byrnes
Sep 15, 2008 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Elizabeth (Alaska)
This was a wonderful story of a boy growing up in the 1930s. He happens to be in the Bronx, but except for not climbing trees, he could have been almost anywhere in the US. He has an imagination. He reads and the characters in his book become part of his playing. He has adventures, mostly of his imagination, but a few real ones. Over the course of the novel, he grows from a pre-schooler to a boy in the fifth grade.

In the "olden days" you waited until the baby was born to find out whether a boy o
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. It is set in the Bronx of the 30s. My mother grew up there in those days and told me many stories about it. Reading about Morris High School (her alma mater), the Grand Concourse, Jerome Avenue, the automat, and more made it seem very special to me, although I haven't seen any of those places for nearly 50 years and then only once. It was kind of like City Boy: The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder, a well-loved book of my youth, and Radio Days, one of my favorite films. Will pr ...more
Andy Weston
Jan 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Set during the 1930s this is the story of the boyhood of Edgar Altschuler growing up in the Bronx. It is wonderfully told and set against the backdrop of the Depression and the start of the Second War.

The best books have memorable passages. When I look back to my favourites that is what stands out, and World’s Fair has plenty of them. These key passages for me are ones that resonate with my own childhood, albeit three or four years older than Edgar.

Edgar’s appreciation of music comes from his
Jul 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013-books, owned
hmmm...this is going to sound lame-ass, but when a book is titled 'world's fair' and the fair in nyc is noted on the jacket kind of expect the world's fair to be an anchor in the story. it's not. not until nearly the very end of the book. so that was a bit weird for me.

but...E.L. DOCTOROW! there. i feel better getting that out of my system.

the man is awesome-sauce. in reading this autobiographical story, i loved the interesting blend of memoir-type remembrances, (doctorow's first name
Jun 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
World’s Fair is the story of a Jewish boy growing up in New York in the ‘30s. It’s told in his voice, with occasional chapters written from the point of view of family members—as if the boy, now older, had questioned them about his childhood and family. There are dual forces at work here—present and future, freedom and restriction, mother and father, fact and fiction (for it seems that much of this book is autobiographical)--perhaps all represented by the Trylon and Perisphere sculptures of the ...more
Nov 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Nearly perfect coming of age story, set in NYC, during the 1930s, capping off with the World's Fair in '38. This looks to be based on Doctorow's early life.
Sep 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
While I was reading this book, I thought--THIS is why I read books. We can't experience everything during our lives. I will never walk on the Moon--or go to Middle Earth or Pellucidar, for that matter. If we use our imaginations, guided by good writing, we can gain new experiences beyond what is possible in our own lives. That's how I feel about E.L. Doctorow's book "World's Fair," published in 1985. I felt like I was living in the Jewish community in the Bronx in the 1930s, growing up along wi ...more
Roger DeBlanck
Jan 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, fiction
World’s Fair is a marvelous and heartwarming novel of a young boy’s coming of age. Taking place before the Second World War in Doctorow’s hometown of New York City, the book relives a quest for memory through the recollections of the young protagonist, simply referred to as Edgar. The novel captures the time period in all its momentousness and brings loveliness and compassion to the occurrences of everyday life. The story's energy and lyricism generate a magical feeling around the valuable lesso ...more
Adam Rabiner
Aug 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Some readers have been frustrated by this book's lack of a strong plot or storyline along the lines of Billy Bathgate or Ragtime but what it lacks in this regard it makes up in other ways. The characters are to me more realistic than in his other more conventional novels. The family members' personalities and characteristics are captured vividly as are childhood memories, concerns, anxieties, fears, excitements, and play. The protagonist is a bright and engaging young boy and the narration is bo ...more
May 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I read this book at the same time as Jane Smiley's upcoming novel Some Luck, which was an interesting experience. While Smiley's characters are given voices appropriate to their age (a child sees the world through a child's eyes), Doctorow's Edgar is looking back at his childhood and waxing philosophic. There are also a few odd chapters here and there told by other characters, as if written in a letter to Edgar. Interesting and unique story structure for an interesting and unique story. For a lo ...more
Bob Redmond
Jan 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana
From the jacket, and true: "World's Fair is better than a time capsule; it's an actual slice of a long-ago world, and we emerge from it as dazed as those visitors standing on the corner of the future." [--Anne Tyler]

Yep... Doctorow's craft is dated (uh, like Tolstoy is dated); to read it is to watch the literary equivalent of a furniture maker who doesn't use nails. The story, which won the National Book Award in 1986, takes you back to the late 1930's and fixes your gaze towards the present. "L
Harold Titus
Jul 07, 2014 rated it really liked it
E. L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair chronicles Edgar Altschuler’s recollections of his first ten years of existence, the growth of his childish awareness of the difficulties of life, and the personal handicaps placed on him as he attempts to acquire self-assurance and experience happiness. Edgar is a Jewish boy growing up in New York City’s Bronx during the rise of Nazism in Germany. His health is problematic. His family’s economic stability is tenuous. His parents’ relationship is combative. The youn ...more
Sep 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Sjajna priča o odrastanju.
Obožavam knjige koje nastaju iz djecijeg ugla, ili još bolje kad pisac zna da se vrati u svoje djetinjstvo i ponovo ga oživi. Sva ona dječija nadanja, otkrivanje svijeta, boje, zvuci, osjećaji, prve ljubavi, patnje i sve ono što nosi jedan mladi život.
Ova je baš takva knjiga. Odrastanje u Njujorku tridesetih godina, sve ono što nose ulice pred sam rat. Preživljavanje, rast, otkrivanje, tuga i sreća.
Jan 20, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

While this book was enjoyable overall, certain aspects yielded mixed feelings. My only other Doctorow novel prior to this was Ragtime, which easily secured a place among my favorite books of all time—intricate and gorgeously written. It was through this novel that I discovered Doctorow’s dazzling flair for historical fiction, for reimagining vivid panoramas of the past and immersing one in the sight, sounds, and smells of a bygone era. I can’t sing enough praises for that novel. So, when I
Robin Friedman
Apr 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The late E.L. Doctorow's (1931 -- 2015) novel "World's Fair (1985) is a lyrical autobiographical story about growing up in the New York City during the Depression.. Most of the book is told in the first person by an adult, "Edgar", who reflects upon his childhood up to the age of about nine. The adult writer has also approached family members for their reminisces, and some chapters of the book are in the words of the boy's mother, Rose, brother, Donald, father, Dave, and his Aunt Frances.

A beaut
Feb 18, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"World's Fair" is a novel that sort of creeps up on you. It has no discernable plot; it is merely snippets of moments in a young Jewish boy's life in New York City in the 1930s. It is a very detailed work; E.L. Doctorow creates the sense of place vividly. You are there when he describes something.
The book is told from the perspective of Edgar Altschuler, a young man looking back on details of his youth. Of the text's 31 chapters all are from his point of view with the exception of four from his
Oct 31, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Many thanks to Steve, who picked up this book at the 2009 Printer's Row Book Fair in Chicago. If not for his enthusiastic suggestion that I read it, I would have missed this simple but powerfully truthful story of a young Jewish kid growing up in the Bronx during the Depression. World's Fair is structured as a series of memories mostly recounted by Edgar, whom we first meet as a pre-schooler and last see as a fifth-grader who's sorted out some of life's questions and seems ready to take on a few ...more
Sarah Coleman
Mar 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
This autobiographical novel is very evocative of New York in the 1930s. Compared to Doctorow's other novels like 'Ragtime' it could be considered small-scale, but it is so rich in detail and atmosphere that the scale hardly matters. The narrative is delivered by a grown man reflecting back on his childhood in a Jewish section of the Bronx in the 1930s. He captures both personal and political events with a child's sense of awe and half-understanding. There's certainly a lot going on, with the Dep ...more
Xenia Germeni
Aug 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Μουσική, ήχοι της πόλης, εικόνες του χθες, όνειρα...μέσα σε μία υπέροχη περιγραφή !
Apr 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
I love the juicy language and especially how Doctorow brings to life common childhood experiences, with all their mystery and confusion, in such rich and gratifying detail.
Mike Zickar
Jul 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A truly enjoyable book written with such a gentle eye of observation from the boy narrator. There really isn't a plot to this novel (I would classify this more as a memoir, though I have no idea how true it is to Doctorow's childhood), it is the chronicle of roughly the first 9 years of life for the narrator, a kid growing up in the South Bronx of the 1930s. This is written with such tenderness and attention to detail that it felt like I was reliving my own childhood, even though our paths were ...more
Pamela Mclaren
An endearing and timeless story about a young boy who grows up in New York during the 30s. Remember, this is the time before America got into the second World War; its the time where Americans are still looking to the future envisioned in part during the World's Fair.

Its also a time of change for Edgar's family. And it is this, rather than the momentous times in which they live that are at center stage. And we see it through young Edgar's eyes.

This is a rare treat of a book — there are scary thi
Abeer Hoque
Sep 21, 2009 rated it it was ok
It was only recently that I gave myself permission to stop reading a book when I wasn't enjoying it. I didn't find "World's Fair" Mr. Doctorow's "most accomplished work to date" (NYT), "something close to magic" (LA Times), "immediately a classic" (Publishers Weekly)...

His novel "Ragtime" which I read last year was fantastic - scintillating and sharp and racing. "World's Fair" was meticulously detailed, wide eyed and full of wonder, and inside the mind and heart of a small boy in early 20th cen
Jan 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Really good book. I can even imagine wanting to read it again. The only parts I skipped were where he goes on and on about some comic action hero, things like that.

Good 2011 review of it in The Guardian by Tom Cox,
[as you might expect, only 2 of the 10 books Cox reviews are by women...sigh...]

New York 1930s from persp. of kid 4 to 10 yrs old, mostly secular Jewish family, 2nd gen. E Europe. Sold as a novel, but surely it is mostly autobiogr? He calls t
Linus Williams
Jan 14, 2016 rated it liked it
A well-written story that's enormously evocative of the day-to-day life of a boy growing up in 1930s New York City. Doctorow does seem to wander a bit, especially in the middle of the book. Additionally, he tries to tell the story from different points of view (the protagonist's mother and brother all get first-person chapters), but there's no regularity to these shifts in viewpoint, which can be a bit jarring when reading. Overall a decent read.
Dec 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction
Meh. What's to like? Maybe the chapters at the end about the kid's actual visit to the fair with his young girlfriend, although I found it creepy that he watches the girl's mother do an erotic act with a mechanical octopus. Other than that bit of bluster, nothing much happens. I was puzzled by some of "young Edgar's" vocabulary; I had to read some sentences twice and still wasn't sure what Doctorow was getting at. And they don't teach about comma splices in the Bronx? Also, the sections narrated ...more
Mikko Saari
Feb 01, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pleasant and interesting description of one childhood and the life in New York in the 1930s. Despite all the hardships, Doctorow writes a positive story. There's only one confrontation with street thugs, and despite the depression and financial troubles the family meets, the story remains mostly positive. The description of the World's Fair is intriguing.
3.5 stars

It's 1930s in the Bronx (NYC), and little Edgar lives with his family in an apartment in a house. It's the depression, but so far his dad's store is in business. His much older brother is patient with him, and his grandmother, struggling with Alzheimer's, lives with them. As he is growing up, there is The World's Fair, which he sets his sites on going to, but in the meantime he lives in (shocking, I know) a dysfunctional family that he doesn't really understand at his age. Here and ther
Mar 27, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people in hammocks
This was a good, simple book. The young boy was a believable voice and an interesting observer of his family, neighborhood, and society, and although there was really no plot to speak of it didn't really matter. This reminded me of one of those books everyone reads in school, like Where The Red Fern Grows , that is compelling and memorable without being especially innovative or exciting. Inspired by this book, I'm planning on reading Ragtime soon.
Dec 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: historical-novel
In World's Fair, E.L. Doctorow tells the story of a boy growing up in New York City during the Great Depression. Much of the book reads like a memoir making me wonder if most of this tale is autobiographical. While I've read many memoirs that snared my interest, this book had many passages that were quite boring. I found myself skimming a lot of them. The plot never really took off and read more like a series of distant memories. If you're interested in what life was like during the Depression, ...more
Aug 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
World's Fair is a book which made this reader feel like he was holding a series of jewels up to his eye and reveling in the sheer loveliness of them. It's a novel that gives the sensations of discovery and enlightenment that the very earliest moments of literary awareness gave me in my youth. This is either a novel garbed in memoir, or a memoir viewed through the patina of a novel, but in either case, World's Fair is an incredibly moving and engaging book to read.
Feb 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Dad, Greg, everyone
This was probably my 2nd favorite by EL Doctorow, after Ragtime. It is about a boy growing up in the Bronx and the summer that the Worlds Fair was in town. It is somewhat of a coming of age story. It has its awkward moments, but so does life when you are 10! It also had a lot of interesting perspectives on the "dawn of the modern age" if you will. Really the transition from the old ways of living to the integration of modern technology into every day life. I thought it was an excellent book and ...more
Kitt Urdang
Jul 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
As a kid, getting older is a gift. Each birthday grants you legitimacy and understanding in an overwhelming world. Edgar, a young boy growing up in New York, anxiously awaits the day when he will be “grown up”, when he will finally receive the respect he craves from his family.

His older brother, Donald, provides a model of how to grow up to be a man, while his father represents more of an eternal child with strong curiosity, a love for life, and a troubling gambling problem. His mother, on the o
Jul 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
World’s Fair
E.L Doctorow 1985

Reading Notes
Read 1992, 2002

Father: Dave Altshuler: owned a music store, socialist, loved to listen to news commentators, said you had to listen to all of them to be able to figure out the truth. I understood the reach of his [my father’s] life. I understood him as living by nature as a sojourner. He went forth and returned. He covered ground. His urges and instincts even on his one day off pointed way from home. My father was not a reliable associate, I was to gathe
John Hubbard
Jun 22, 2016 rated it liked it
Edgar Levine tells his story, with occasional help from older brother Donald, his mother Rose, and once Aunt Frances, of growing up as Jewish boy in New York in the 1930’s. The Levine family struggles along with their Hippodrome music store even before trying to move uptown and having it fail. The depression is on, but certainly no dustbowl in Manhattan. The father Dave is an idealist in the family tradition. “Besides, my grandfather spoke so philosophically from such thoughtful distances of wis ...more
Jun 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
I sorta read one sentence in every chapter? But it was more than enough.
Pac Mclaurin
Aug 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I am so sad that E.L. Doctorow is gone. I'm glad I've not read all of his books because I love his stories. This book is for the most part narrated by a young boy. It advances as he grows older from being a pre-school age child to being a young teen-ager. His Jewish family seems fairly typical for the time and he tries his best to adapt to the issues that face each member of the family.He befriends a young girl in his class, they study and play together. Her mother works at the World's Fair and ...more
Loved it. Just finished and want to start again.
Doctorow described the novel, aptly, as "the sentimental education of a kid, a bildungsroman, if you will, that simply stops at the age of 10." The Bronx-born narrator grows up, from toddler age, as the novel proceeds. "World's Fair" has the delight, the hilarity, of all the best stories that embrace the child's perspective (for example, James's "What Maisie Knew"): the observant child, all perception and feeling, making sense of his world, at fir
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Play Book Tag: World's Fair, by E.L. Doctorow 3.5 stars 3 11 Feb 21, 2017 08:20AM  
The Worlds Fair Review 2 10 Feb 22, 2016 06:41PM  
SE Reading Buffs 1st: World Fair 3 3 Oct 28, 2015 06:39AM  
  • The Field of Vision
  • Blood Tie
  • The Waters of Kronos
  • Ten North Frederick
  • Paco's Story
  • A Crown of Feathers
  • The Hair of Harold Roux
  • A Frolic of His Own
  • The Eighth Day
  • Morte D'Urban
  • Victory Over Japan: A Book of Stories
  • The Magic Barrel
  • Spartina
  • Mr. Sammler's Planet
  • Chimera
  • The News from Paraguay
  • Middle Passage
  • In America
E. L. DOCTOROW’S works of fiction include Homer & Langley,The March, Billy Bathgate, Ragtime, the Book of Daniel, City of God, Welcome to Hard Times, Loon Lake, World’s Fair, The Waterworks, and All the Time in the World. Among his honors are the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle Awards, two PEN Faulkner Awards, The Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, and the presidential ...more
“I knew he was unreliable, but he was fun to be with. He was a child’s ideal companion, full of surprises and happy animal energy. He enjoyed food and drink. He liked to try new things. He brought home coconuts, papayas, mangoes, and urged them on our reluctant conservative selves. On Sundays he liked to discover new places, take us on endless bus or trolley rides to some new park or beach he knew about. He always counseled daring, in whatever situation, the courage to test the unknown, an instruction that was thematically in opposition to my mother’s.” 12 likes
“The Shadow had no imagination. He neither looked at naked women nor thought of ridding the world of dictators like Hitler or Mussolini.” 6 likes
More quotes…